Eyes Wide Open Project

The Eyes Wide Open project has been developed by Privacy International, in order to expose the activities of the Five Eyes.

The goals of the Eyes Wide Open campaign are as follows:

  1. Reveal the Five Eyes arrangement and subject the world’s most powerful and secret intelligence sharing regime to appropriate transparency and scrutiny.
  2. Challenge the legal frameworks that enable global surveillance practices, and particularly those that discriminate between nationals and foreigners with respect to human rights obligations.
  3. Promote an understanding of human rights obligations as applying to all individuals under a state’s jurisdiction, regardless of their location.
  4. Campaign for policies that bring intelligence agencies under the rule of law.

Alliance & Activities

The Five Eyes alliance is comprised of the following bodies:

  • United States: National Security Agency (NSA)
  • United Kingdom: Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)
  • Canada: Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC)
  • Australia: Australian Signals Directorate (ASD)
  • New Zealand: Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB)

This is a continuation of an intelligence partnership formed in the aftermath of WWII. Today, the Five Eyes has infiltrated every aspect of modern global communications systems. Some examples of alliance activities include:

  • Forcing companies to hand over customer data under secret orders
  • Secretly tapping fiber optic cables between companies’ data centers
  • Accessing sensitive financial data via SWIFT, the world’s financial messaging system
  • Spending years negotiating an international agreement to regulate access to the data through a democratic and accountable process, then hacking the networks to gain direct access
  • Threatening politicians with threats of impending cyber-war, while operating intrusion operations that weaken the security of networks globally
  • Sabotaging encryption standards and standards bodies, thus undermining the ability of internet users to secure information

Each of these actions has been justified secretly, on the basis of secret interpretations of international law and classified agreements. These intelligence agencies, as well as the governments that control them, have removed our ability to challenge their actions and the impact of those actions upon our human rights.

It’s important to recognize that the Five Eyes agencies are not only eroding the spirit and purpose of international human rights instruments, they are also directly violating their obligations under such instruments.

Legal Frameworks

Currently, there is no clear and accessible legal regime that indicates the circumstances in which the Five Eyes authorities can request access to signals intelligence from, or provide such intelligence to, another Five Eyes authority. Each member state has broad, vague domestic laws that supposedly warrant the sharing of and access to shared signal intelligence with the authorities of other states. These laws fail to set minimum safeguards or provide details of or restrictions upon the nature of intelligence sharing.

Analysis of current legal provisions in each of the Five Eyes states reveals that they do not adequately describe the fluid and integrated intelligence sharing activities that actually take place. None of the domestic legal frameworks describe the circumstances in which intelligence authorities can obtain, store and transfer nationals’ or residents’ private communication and other information that are intercepted by another Five Eyes agency.

All in all, the legal and regulatory frameworks that govern and give effect to Five Eyes cannot be said to be sufficiently clear and detailed to meet the requirement of being “in accordance with the law,” nor are they sufficiently accessible to ensure that they comply with the rule of law.


It’s important to understand state jurisdiction over human rights violations in order to give effect to international human rights obligations in the digital age. Through the concept of “interference-based jurisdiction,” states owe a general duty not to interfere with communications that pass through their territorial borders. In this way, we can approach the issue of mass surveillance within a human rights framework in such a way that provides rights and remedies to affected individuals. Without this kind of perspective, states will continue to conduct surveillance in a way that renders human rights obligations meaningless.


This article takes a look at Privacy International’s Eyes Wide Open project, which seeks to reveal the Five Eyes alliance and hold it accountable for its human rights violations.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/US Government (CIPP/US), a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • National Security and Privacy (III.B.)

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